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Electric Vehicles

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 10 November 2020

Tuesday, 10 November 2020

Questions (102)

James O'Connor


102. Deputy James O'Connor asked the Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications the status of his plans to support the development of infrastructure for electric vehicles. [35091/20]

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Oral answers (11 contributions) (Question to Environment)

Electric vehicles are the future of our personal transportation system, particularly for long journeys and in rural areas. We need to have more of a discussion around how we put in place the infrastructure we require to sustain that type of transport system. Will the Minister give the House some guidance as to what steps his Department is taking to fulfil some of the actions that are required?

The Government is fully committed to supporting a significant expansion and modernisation of the electric vehicle charging network over the coming years. We have committed €10 million from the climate action fund to promote the charging network and this has leveraged a further €10 million investment from ESB. This intervention will result in 90 additional high-power chargers, each capable of charging two vehicles, 52 additional fast chargers, which may replace existing standard chargers, and 264 replacement standard chargers with more modern technology, with each consisting of two charge points.

Since the delivery stage of the product commenced in October 2019, four multicharger sites have been delivered, one each on motorways in Galway, Kildare, Laois and Meath. The programme to upgrade 50 standard chargers to fast chargers has already commenced with 13 installations now in place. In addition, 159 standard chargers, each with two charge points, have been replaced, bringing the total number of those chargers nationally to 318.

My Department also provides support to the SEAI public charge points scheme. This scheme provides funding to local authorities for the development of on-street public chargers. The primary focus of this scheme is to provide support for the installation of infrastructure which would facilitate owners of EVs who do not have access to a private parking space but rely on parking their vehicles on the public street to charge their EVs near their homes. A total of 75% of the capital cost is provided through a grant up to a maximum of €5,000 per charging point.

My Department will continue to support this scheme through the grants provided by the SEAI and in parallel is developing a charging infrastructure strategy in line with the programme for Government. This will ensure capacity keeps ahead of demand, while also putting in place guidance for local authorities on how best to expand the network of public charge points at local, national and regional levels.

Work is currently being progressed to expand the EV home charger grant to include shared parking in apartment blocks and similar developments. However, there are a number of complex planning and legal issues to address before we can expand the grant in an appropriate manner so as to include the required categories of shared parking. My Department is working closely with the SEAI and the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage to address the issues.

On new build, it should be noted that the EU energy performance and buildings directive requires member states to ensure that appropriate infrastructure is installed in all new residential and non-residential buildings as well as those buildings with more than ten car parking spaces for the purpose of enabling the installation of a larger stage of charging points for electric vehicles. It is intended that the EU requirement will be transposed into Irish law by the end of this year.

In addition to the schemes outlined above, the Department of Transport is also undertaking an EV small public service vehicles, SPSV, charger project, which will see the installation of SPSV-dedicated EV chargers at Dublin and Cork airports and at Heuston train station in Dublin, Colbert train station in Limerick and Kent train station in Cork. In budget 2021, additional funding has been allocated to extend this dedicated infrastructure network further and dedicated recharging network is key to supporting the sector in making the switch to greener, cleaner alternatives.

I welcome the Minister's efforts so far to deal with this issue. What needs to be explored in Ireland is our conversation around having a system in place where we are moving from a fossil fuel-based cars industry towards a greener one. There is much apprehension and fear among many families which is damaging consumer confidence in the car industry around purchasing vehicles. I strongly encourage the Minister to tackle that issue in the next number of years so that there is a degree of certainty as to whether it is a wise move to purchase an electric vehicle, to focus on hybrids or to buy a car that runs on diesel or petrol, which some families are still considering. I am a keen motorist with an interest in this area and I know from talking to people in this industry that that is a fear. I would appreciate it if the Minister responded to that.

There is definitely a growing demand among the public for public EV charging points, from people living in apartments to tourist destinations to car parks. Macroom Town Council, for example, led on this a number of years ago and installed one of the first charging points in Cork. I acknowledge the Minister has made funding available to local authorities. However, there seems to be little interest among local authorities in accessing it. In the past year, only two of them accessed the funding and less than half made inquiries.

Has the Minister engaged with local authorities in order to energise them in accessing funding and putting in place electric vehicle services for the public, whether in Ballincollig or other places across County Cork? Has the Minister engaged with the local authorities and is it possible to energise them and get them accessing the available funding?

I will start by replying to Deputy Aindrias Moynihan. As it happens, I had a meeting with Cork County Council last week on the issue of sustainable travel in general. I take every chance I get to encourage local authorities to make an application for funding and look to develop their infrastructure. The benefits, as I see it, are setting out a direction of travel. We are running a towns first strategy aimed at bringing life back into the centre of Macroom and any other town. It would help if we could put good quality infrastructure in the centre of towns. It would be particularly appropriate where there are rows of terraced houses, tightly knit together. It is hard to service those houses with electric charging points because if three or four households in a row have an electric vehicle, there would be a difficulty on the distribution grid at that level, as well as the potential problem of getting a parking spot outside the house and so on. Having that sort of infrastructure would be a part of a town first revival.

I was impressed with the engineers and officials I met from Cork County Council. There was a lot of discussion around public realm and investing in the centre of towns. This is now part of the public realm infrastructure.

I thank the Minister.

I have not yet responded to Deputy O'Connor, if I may briefly run over my allotted time.

I believe that the future will be all electric. Certain other players, including the likes of Toyota, would say that hybrid cars have a real advantage. Toyota would say that a hybrid vehicle is running on electricity 80% of the time, taking the energy from the brakes, and that there is efficiency because there is a large number of cars for the amount of battery power required. The reason I think electric vehicles will prevail in the long run is that there are fewer moving parts, the fuel costs are a fifth of those of other types of car and the maintenance cost is a fraction because there are fewer moving parts. They are simply better cars. They are coming in for certain.

I thank the Minister for his response. I will reiterate, to a certain extent, that there is a lot of fear among families who are purchasing an electric vehicle. It is an expensive thing to do. My constituency is very rural where there is no option for public transport and people need to buy cars every few years, depending on the mileage they are doing and so on and so forth. I feel there is a lack of clarity around purchasing vehicles at the moment and what the transition is going to be like. We are moving towards an electric-based system and I agree with the Minister that it is the future. We, as a country, are seeing significant investment in green technology and transport. The Minister knows that his Department has recently invested significantly in Youghal and Midleton with the new greenway system, which is welcome. It is coming in at a cost of €10 million.

A strategy would be welcome and a prudent move from the Minister. It would certainly quell a lot of fears that consumers and families out there have around this particular problem.

I mentioned the problem of the distribution grid. When we are using heat pumps as well as electric vehicles, probably the biggest engineering and technical challenge is how do we do that in an urban area. We will not have that problem in one-off houses in rural Ireland because cars can be charged right outside the door of the house. That vehicle and a heat pump can be managed. There will be new home energy management systems coming in which will turn the vehicle or the pump on or off and get power going backwards and forwards. The range of these vehicles is improving. We have access to renewable wind power in many rural parts of the country. This is probably going to be a rural solution first. It will probably be more difficult in some of the urban areas because of the charging difficulties we would have in apartment blocks, terraced housing and semi-detached houses. It will not be easy. One-off rural housing is a perfect target market for electric vehicles as their range comes up and costs come down. The quality is there, as I said. The maintenance costs are lower and the fuel costs are a fraction of other types of car. I see this, first and foremost, as a rural solution.